Practitioner viewpoint

10 May 2021

Louise Ward recently experienced some exemplary leadership. Not from a senior executive, a celebrity, or an ‘influencer’, but from a group of technicians at a train maintenance depot in Leeds!

THE STORY started some two years ago when the depot manager engaged in a rest, recovery and resilience seminar as part of a wellbeing campaign. He really identified with some principles, both for himself and for his staff, and decided to follow up with some local sessions to help his team focus on their physical and mental wellbeing. So, at this point you’re probably imagining a healthy eating and exercise campaign, or smoking cessation clinics etc, but the tool that he chose to focus on was actually Mindfulness. This might seem like an unusual approach, but it’s been hugely successful, and on 18th March the team were featured on BBC1s Morning Live programme talking about the benefits they have experienced.

When we were invited to engage in the programme I wasn’t sure whether the team would want to be involved, but they were delighted to have an opportunity to explain to other people just how much Mindfulness can help in coping with the everyday struggles of modern life. It must have taken enormous courage, but they stood proudly in front of the cameras and talked about the ways in which their physical and mental health have improved, how they’ve been able to use the techniques that they’ve learned to help their families, and how it has brought them closer together as a team. 

I guess we’d expected some response on social media, but the depot manager was bowled over by the number of messages he received, from friends and colleagues, people he’d not heard from in years and even some that he didn’t know at all, praising him and the team for the work that they’ve done, and explaining how they had used the clip to start meaningful conversations about health and mental wellbeing with their own work groups and families.

On reflection, I think that the thing that prompted such as positive response was their open-mindedness in trying something new, and the authenticity of their message about the benefits. It’s inspired others to follow their lead – and for me that’s true leadership.

The COVID pandemic has affected us all hugely over the last 12 months, and there is no doubt that our way of life will be changed for ever by this experience. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but if we are to experience the positive benefits of the ‘new normal’ more flexible and blended approach to work that is now being so widely discussed, then I think we need to learn from my colleagues in Leeds.

Businesses will look to us, their health and safety experts, to support the transition towards a new way of working. It may not always be comfortable, or align with the traditional workplace organisation principals that we know of old, but it does have huge potential to positively enhance peoples lives, and to open up the world of work to many who have previously been unable to access it. So we will need to be open-minded, approach each suggestion positively, and support businesses in applying the core principles of risk management to enable new ways of working. 

Of course not everything we try will work out well straight away. We’ll have to take stock, learn lessons and adapt along the way, and that’s where the strength of our professional leadership will be particularly important. But if we can model the same open-mindedness, authenticity and positivity, shown by the maintenance team in Leeds, then I’m confident that we can succeed in establishing a happier, healthier and more productive workforce to help drive economic recovery and future prosperity right across the UK.

Louise Ward is the health, safety and environment director at Siemens. For more information visit,